7 August 2016.
Nepalese national election results were declared 2 days back. Nepali Praja Sangh led Uttam Maharaj, had won 108 seats to emerge as the single largest party but was still short of majority by 30 seats in the 275 seat House of Representatives. Nepal Communist Party led by Srijan Mathi had won 69 seats and the rest by independents and some other smaller parties.
With this Nepal was staring at yet another period of political instability and rumours of yet another civil war were getting stronger. NPS and NCP were both bitter rivals and had actually fought on opposite sides during the civil war not too long back. So most people had little hope of any stable government.
Maharaj had managed to secure support of 15 more members but was running out of pending favours and money to buy more.The money and political capital he had spent on the elections had left his war chest empty and he was getting desperate. He had been meeting and calling people non-stop trying to bring more legislators into his camp. Some of his trusted party workers had just informed him of a faction considering breaking away to join NCP increasing his worries even more. If he couldn’t manage to form the government and take oath as Prime Minister this time, he was sure that his competitors within the party would ensure that he couldn’t even get a party ticket to fight elections next time. After 35 years of hard work, sleepless nights, speeches, war, petty fights, rallies, betrayals and a punishing public life, he was almost there and yet couldn’t grasp his prize.
He had come back to his own house for some rest and change after spending 72 hours in party office and was having his first proper meal in that time. But his mind was too distracted to enjoy the food. All the calculations in his mind led him to the plain fact that no party could hope to form the government unless they could manage to steal the members from other parties and he knew that he had nothing left to buy them with.
He finished his meal and leaned back in his chair to gather his thoughts for a while when his assistant Mohan Bista entered the room and spoke softly, “Sir, Padam Giri just called. He wants to meet you right now.”
Maharaj spoke without opening his eyes, “Has he lowered his price now ? Tell him that his 12 seats can not get him 4 minister ranks and 90 crores too.”
“I think he wants to talk about something else and wants to do it right now.”
Maharaj sighed, “Ask him to meet me here at 11:30 pm. I want to get 1-2 hours of sleep before that.”
“He is actually here with another person, waiting in the guest room. Also came in through the back entrance in an unmarked car.”
Maharaj opened his eyes slowly, stared at the assistant and spoke wearily, “If he is already here, bring him in. Might as well get this over with first and then get some rest.”
Mohan ushered Giri few minutes later and left the room. Giri felt bitter and tired but didn’t let it show in his greeting. “Welcome Giri sahib, it’s nice of you to visit my house after such a long time.”
Giri grinned with folded hands, “Thank you Maharaj ji for allowing me a bit of your time, that too at this hour. I know that you just came back from the party office, but this is important and couldn’t wait. Also I didn’t want the rest of your party members to get a hint before your approval.”
Maharaj raised an eyebrow, “Even the rest of my party members shouldn’t know ! Interesting.”
Giri laughed, “I’m sure that it’ll sound strange to you but please hear my proposal first, then decide.” He waited for Maharaj to nod and started, “What if I tell you that you could be PM of Nepal not with 138 seats but 180+ ? And you can stake your claim the day after tomorrow.”
Maharaj seemed unfazed, “Are you suggesting an alliance with NCP ? Even if I am interested in this, how will you get them to agree ? In case you don’t know it already, I must inform you that neither NPS or NCP has enough cash or clout to buy out each other.”
“You know, for the deal I have brought to you, I must ask you for a lot more than what I did earlier.” Giri laughed and then noticed the almost annoyed expression on Maharaj’s face “ Alright, I am coming straight to the point now. As you might have guessed already, what we are offering you is support of 12 members of my party and atleast 55 of NCP. It may be possible to get even more from NCP if we have enough time. And before you ask, you will not have to pay anything to them. Only the sharing of ministerial ranks and a common program will be enough. Also, I will accept your first offer of payment, but will need two minister ranks”
Maharaj rubbed his forehead and sighed loudly. “This is a very generous offer, but I can’t think why so many of them will support me as Prime Minister. We can fool the public by claiming that this alliance was formed to spare Nepal from unrest of yet another election, but most of my party members are no fools. Many have fought NCP not just in elections but with guns during the civil war too.”
“Are you worried about a revolt in your party if there’s an alliance with NCP.” Giri asked, his smile still intact.
“More than that, I am worried about the loyalty of NCP people. I can control most of my party members with money, blackmail and favours. Not so much with NCP. Even if they agree to an alliance today, what stops these communists from pulling the rug from under my feet in future for whatever reason ? But even before that, I must know who is paying for all this and or is it Dharmlal who is leading the revolt ?”
Giri stared at his hands for a few seconds as if calculating something. “Well, in conditions like these I prefer complete honesty. I could tell you all the details, but I’d like to have my friend who is waiting outside to be a part of our discussions before I disclose anything. But first, he must know that you are open to the proposal. ”
Maharaj noticed that Giri had not stopped smiling in his typical sly manner ever since he had entered the room. “Who is he ?”
“His name is Trilochan Dutta, son of Mahendra Dutta.”
“Mahendra Dutta, that famous “‘businessman’ who runs hundreds of smuggling and financial fraud rackets in all of Nepal ?”
“Well, if you put it this way that’s more or less the truth of it. But Trilochan has lived most of his young life in Germany and England and has no direct links to his father’s activities here. He is here in his own personal capacity, not his father’s. But before he comes in, I’d appreciate it if our own deal remains between us, for now.”
At this point Maharaj was tired and desperate enough to consider everything. He nodded and called Mohan to usher Trilochan in. He greeted Maharaj politely, took a seat offered to him and waited. “Not typical behaviour of a political broker”, Maharaj thought to himself and then addressed Giri, “So shall we hear your proposal now ?”
Giri nodded, “As I was saying, there are a few NCP seats that can come your way if you are open to the offer. My friend Trilochan here has pulled some very expensive strings to make it happen. All they want is a common agenda which we have ensured will be a mere formality, post of deputy PM and 9-10 ministerial ranks. You will remain Prime Minister for the whole term.”
Maharaj looked at Trilochan and then at Giri, “You are missing one other.. party.”
“Yes, I was just coming to that. There are two people in NCP and one in NPS who are close friends of Trilochan here. We’d very much like that the ministerial ranks we’ve been talking about should go to them.”
A small smirk formed on Maharaj’s lips “So 100s of crores are changing hands for just 3 minister posts ?”
Giri smiled back a bit uncomfortably, “That’s about it, yes.”
“Kedar Rana, Gopal Prasad and Ratna Bahadur. These three need to be ministers, right ?”
If Giri was surprised, he hid it well. He glanced at Trilochan and then nodded at Maharaj, his smile back. “As expected, you know most of the details.”
“What I know is that these three and our friend Trilochan have a few other things in common. I also know that Duttas have money to burn, but not this kind of money for such a small reward of just 3 ministers of their choice. There is another party involved in all this. And they have more money to burn in Nepal than our annual budget. Am I right Trilochan ?“
Trilochan was unfazed, but was unsure of what to say.
“So let’s say I agree to this proposal paid for by our northern neighbour and stake the claim. What happens to our relations with our southern neighbour then ? Northerners have their grip on communists of NCP. At the same time, most of my party candidates couldn’t have won any election without support from our south.
What makes you think that the rest of NPS will agree to an alliance, let alone power sharing with NCP ?”
Giri paused for a few moments as if weighing his options, “I’m just a small time politician Maharaj ji. You are the leader of the largest political party of Nepal and our soon to be prime minister. I am sure you’ll find a way. We’ll also help you in every way possible.”
Trilochan spoke for the first time, “We can get northerners to help in this too. Our relationship with south was more due to compulsion than desire. Once NPS-NCP alliance is a reality, Nepal will be strong enough to be truly independent. We will not have to depend upon Indians for anything.”
“And your family will be able to get all the “investments” they need to expand their businesses, right ?” Maharaj spoke with a tight smile. “Wouldn’t you fight elections next time too ?”
Trilochan shifted in his seat, but didn’t say anything.
Maharaj leaned back on his chair and sighed wearily. He was so tired that he could barely keep his eyes open. He spoke softly after a minute. “Giri, Dutta, thank you for your offer. I must say that it’s very generous but I need to sleep on it. I’ll give you my reply first thing in the morning.”
Trilochan opened his mouth as if to say something but stopped after getting a nudge from Giri. They both exited the house and got in to their cars. Trilochan started eagerly, “So what do you think ? Will he agree ?”
“For all his faults, he is an astute politician and knows which side of bread is buttered.” Giri lit a cigarette and took a deep drag only to see confusion on Trilochan’s face.
“Don’t worry, I’ve known him for 30 years. He will agree.”
“And what about Indians ?”, Trilochan interjected.
Giri exhaled wearily, “Trilochan my dear, in politics you must learn to talk without taking names. I agreed to your proposal only because I knew which side will prevail. He knows it too and just like me, he will choose the winning side. Just wait till morning.”